Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Trip report update

Ok, I know, I haven't posted for about a week now. It's been one hectic week though.  I believe I left off in Green River, UT so that's where I'll begin. 

Tues the 17th: 
We got up early and did Arches NP.  I had been there before so there wasn't a lot to see but it was fun. Saw a few Golden Eagles on the way back to the interstate.  Then we headed west and then south to Capitol Reef National Park where I picked up Juniper Titmouse, Canyon Wren, Mountain Bluebird and Gambel's Quail.  Then we drove down through the Grand Staircase in Escalante National Park and out to "The point." "The point" is a section of road that runs out to a point and then down the front of it.  The interesting part of the road though is that the farther out you are on the point, the narrower the road is.  Near the tip, the road has practically no shoulder since the shoulders drop about 300 ft straight down on either side of the road.  The views from the point are pretty nice though. 
We ended at Bryce Canyon rather late that night. 

Wed, Feb 18th:
We got up before sunrise and drove down to the canyon to see the first light of the winter morning shining on the red pinnacles of the canyon.  Bryce Canyon really doesn't qualify as a true canyon since there really is only one side to it but the rock pinnacles are pretty cool nonetheless.   After watching the sunrise, we headed for St George.  We arrived at my Uncle's house a little after noon and had quite a time meeting, re-meeting and catching up with old friends and relatives.   I had not seen most of them for nearly 10 years so it was nice to see them once more.  It was especially nice to see my cousins Reegan, Marley and Mason once again.  The last time I saw Mason, he was still learning to walk, talk and chew gum. :D 
Mason is now 9 years old and Reegan and Marley are now 14 and 13 respectively. How time flies! 
I was also very happy to meet to new cousins for the first time. The twins Drew and Drake who are now 8 years old and I'm told get into more mischief in one week than the rest of us have been in in 5 years! lol 

As we settled in, I quickly discovered that the subdivision was excellent habitat for Gambel's Quail and that my Uncle had a pair of Crissal Thrashers coming to his feeder.  Naturally, with such awesome birds around and someone who knew them, my cousins quickly became interested in what feathered friends lived in the area. Reegan and Mason especially so. 
So we went for a walk through the desert down to the nearby reservoir.  Along the way we saw a Roadrunner, Lesser Goldfinches, many many Quail, several species of ducks, many White-crowned Sparrows and a Northern Harrier. 

Thurs, Fri:
I spent both days and both nights at my uncle's house along with my cousins.  We hiked down to the reservoir both days and saw more cool birds and many Black-tailed Jackrabbits. 

Sat, the 21st: 
Mason, Uncle Doug, my family and I spent the morning at Zion National Park. 
The best birds of the day were easily 3 Dippers and a Townsend's Solitaire that posed just perfectly for photos.  We also saw several Western Bluebirds and we saw a lone Prairie Falcon on the way in. 

The reason for everyone being there was not a happy one though. My Aunt Vicki had had cancer for some time but within the last couple weeks suddenly went downhill very quickly. 
On Fri evening, her heart rate had jumped. On Sat, as we were about to leave Zion NP, we got a call that her breathing rate had jumped as well. We ran back as fast as we could.  Little did we know just how short a time was left to her.  She passed away at about 8:30 that night.  It was a rather sad ending to a few happy days. 

Unfortunately, we could not stay longer as I had to be back by this Fri.  We struck out for Durango where we stayed last night. We awoke this morning to cloudy, rainy skies and decided to head for home ahead of the next winter storm.  I am now in Ogallala, NE. A very long 581 miles from Durango.  Tomorrow, we will cover the remaining 743 miles to our house in RC. 

I'll post my photos when I get home.  Then, on Mon, you get to hear about my upcoming weekend trip this coming weekend! 

Happy Birding! 

Monday, February 16, 2009

Just in case you're wondering........

No, I didn't vanish off the face of the earth. :D   My reputation for the past couple of years has been that I can show up in unexpected places quite suddenly and without warning.  
Most of the birders in WI don't even blink an eye if I turn up in Sheboygan, Duluth, Milwaukee or some weird place like that.  So, holding to my reputation, I am now sitting in a hotel room in Green River, Utah. Talk about unexpected places. lol :D 

My Aunt in St George, UT isn't well and isn't expected to be with us much longer, so my family and I decided to leave for Utah on a moment's notice.   We left on Sunday morning and drove through to North Platte, NE. A distance of about 700 miles (yes we cover a lot of ground).  Along the way, I picked up 4 year birds.  Redhead Duck, Prairie Falcon (kiting right over the interstate), Snow Goose and Ross's Goose.  The geese were impossible to miss, considering that we saw roughly 5-8000 of them between Kearney and North Platte. North Platte by the way is where the Rowe Audubon sanctuary is (for those who aren't familiar, Rowe Sanctuary is where hundreds of people come in a few weeks to see the thousands of migrating Sandhill Cranes). 
I also managed to pick up a further 4 year birds today in the form of Black-billed Magpie, Red-winged Blackbird (yea, I know), Cackling Goose and a single Cassin's Finch just outside of Denver. 

Again, we saw roughly 3-5000 Snow and Ross's Geese today.  Unfortunately, we have been in such a hurry, that I haven't had time to stop and get many photos.  
Stopped at Lake "Mac" in Ogallala. Saw a few Herring Gulls and many Common Mergansers. Nothing else. 

We did stop at the top of Loveland Pass (around 11,800ft ish I think) but there were a lot of people there with several dogs along with blowing winds and I wasn't equipped to go hiking a long ways so I skipped White-tailed Ptarmigan until we return that way next week. 

For the first time ever, I drove all the way through Colorado without seeing a single Mountain Chickadee, Steller's Jay or Clark's Nutcracker. That's almost pathetic!  Did pick up a lone Pine Siskin though and a Black-capped Chickadee in Denver.  
What was surprising was the temperature. It hit 57 degrees in Denver, 26 at the top of Loveland Pass and 55 again in Grand Junction.  By Thurs, it's supposed to hit nearly 60 degrees in St George! Incredible.  I hope it's warmer at home when we get back. 

I'll be posting photos from yesterday and today sometime tomorrow if I get a chance. 

Happy Birding! 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A week of birding

Well, there goes my resolution to post daily. Might even have to toss out the weekly one too.
Seriously, nine days between posts..... ouch!

Anyway, here's a report on what I've been up to.

Feb 3rd (last Tues) I went on a fruitless search for White-winged Crossbills in Crawford County. Crawford is the county just to the west of Richland. It is certainly not known for Spruce stands. I was able to find only a few stands of White Spruce. No Crossbills though.

I did see some pretty cool birds. Down in Soldier's Grove, I spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk sitting in a tree in someone's back yard.

Driving south along the Kickapoo River, a Northern Shrike flew across the road in front of me and landed in a tree not too far off. I managed to squeeze off a couple photos before it flew. I still haven't been able to get a really decent shot of a Shrike. Northern or otherwise.

A Bald Eagle completed the day. It was rather dark though so my photo didn't come out as well as I would have liked.

Jump ahead a day.  I scoured the southern part of Crawford County for Crossbills. Again with no luck.  They have yet to be reported from that county. The WSO is trying to go for a full state invasion year so they need Crossbills reported from all 72 counties in WI. They have 14 to go. 
Anyway, I somehow made it all the way to Prairie Du Chien where I found a pair of Wood Ducks in with all the Mallards.

I somehow missed the Black Ducks that I was later told were hanging around there too.  I also found another Bald Eagle feasting on a carcass. It was probably a 3 year old bird. Not quite a full adult yet.

Fast forward to Feb 6th.  I was watching the 30+ Common Redpolls (no Hoary yet) at my feeder when a Sharp-shinned Hawk blew through. He paused only long enough to have his portrait taken before he took off for better hunting grounds. 

Jump ahead to Feb 10th. Yesterday.  I took advantage of the 55 degree, sunny weather and ran an 11 hour, 250 mile birding marathon triangle from Richland Center to Prairie Du Chien to La Crosse and back.  
I started out at Wyalusing State park where I spent less than 15 minutes between entering the park and leaving it. It was way too windy for passerines and the river was still pretty frozen. 
The road to the boat landing did have a mixed flock of Robins and Cedar Waxwings though.  
The boat landing had only ice fishermen. 

Then I headed south to Bagley where I picked up my only White-winged Crossbill of the day. 
A Backwards loop through Patch Grove proved futile except for a flock of Snow Buntings and some Horned Larks. 
Stopping at the Villa Louis again, I quickly picked out 3 Wood Ducks among all the Mallards and then took the time to find the Black Duck too.  Out by the bridge, I picked up Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser and Canada Goose. 
Over at Dennis Kirschbaum's house, I picked up a flock of Common Redpolls and was attempting to find a Hoary when a Sharp-shinned Hawk breezed through at flushed everything. 
Figuring it was pointless to stay, I headed North.  Mostly ice-covered river, a few Gadwall, 200 Bald Eagles and not a single Crossbill later, I arrived at Goose Island in La Crosse. All the water was frozen though and it was pretty pointless to stay.  I turned North again and headed up to French Island to check out another Hoary Redpoll (thanks for the directions Dan). Finding the feeders devoid of birds, I cruised around in search of the flock. No go. They were gone. Since it was getting pretty late, I headed home. 

On County ZZ, about 5 mins from home, I spotted my 3rd species of Owl for the year sitting on a snag, silhouetted against the quickly darkening sky. 
I don't think I have any need to tell you what species it is. The photo says it all. 

Happy Birding! 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Owl Ethics

Ok I don't usually post about stuff like this but I'm going to stick my neck out here. :D 

The subject of some of the recent posts on Wisbirdn have been concerning both ethics and owls. Specifically one Snowy Owl in particular.  
The bird in question has been hanging out in a certain field in Waukesha, WI .  
This bird has been, recently, one of the most photographed birds in the state.  Unfortunately, even though most birders and photographers are very good about keeping their distance, there are always a few people who can't get that perfect shot without having to stand right next to the bird.  Not only that, but some of these same people have been releasing live mice for the Owl to chase just so they can get that "perfect" shot.  

Why must people do this?   Is there some reason that they can't just trust to luck?  
This owl is on it's winter territory. Getting to close causes the owl to flush, wasting valuable energy.  I have heard from several people who have watched birders and photographers walk right out in the field just to get a photo. Is a photo really worth that much? That one has to get super close?  The worst part is a couple of these photographers have had 400-600mm lenses on their cameras.  With a lens like that, you don't need to get that close. Many cameras today also have sufficient megapixels that you can crop down quite a bit without detracting from the quality of the photo.   
Don't these people understand that the bird comes first? and the your photo?  If you get a decent photo fine. but if you can't get one without chasing the bird, then you shouldn't be out there in the first place. 

The ABA's code of ethics is quite a good one to know and remember since most clubs, organizations and other birding groups adopt it. 
Here's the link to it:  http://aba.org/about/ethics.html

So the original debate was about feeding the bird.  There were several legitimate points about this so I'm not going to touch that. What I am going to mention though is exactly WHAT they were feeding the bird.  
The answer? Mice. 
Now, these aren't your typical Wood Mouse or Field Mouse.  These are lab-raised white Mice. 
So why the objection to white Mice?  
First, they aren't the normal, typical type of mouse that a Snowy Owl would eat. 
Secondly, the can and do carry parasites and diseases that wild mice would not. 

Here's what a Milwaukee zookeeper has to say:

"I, like many, are disturbed by the incessant harrassment of this snowy in Waukesha. Being a professional animal care person for the past 18 years, I can assure all of the following:

1. The mice being bought at the pet store and fed to the owl are definitely loaded with parasites. At the Milwaukee County Zoo we freeze captive raised mice/rats for a minimum of two weeks to virtually eliminate all parasites. As far as disease--depending on where these mice came from it is a possibility.

2. Approaching a snowy owl is highly unethical. Physiologically this is taxing on the bird. Yes, the bird may appear "tame" but of course it is not. Forcing a bird to expend energy unnecessarily can and very likely will contribute to its demise.

3. Trespassing??? Doesn't everyone know not to do that! Evidently not. Anyone pursuing this bird in such a manner as baiting and/or approaching it should reevaluate their ethical standards.

Just my two cents.

Mickey O'Connor
Milwaukee County Zoo
Milwaukee, WI"

So there you have it from two people.  Me and Mickey both.  
The White Mice that you get from the local pet store are NOT safe to feed to a Snowy Owl. I don't care why you're doing it. DON'T! 
Seriously, these two actions endanger the life of a beautiful bird.   Plus, as Mickey points out, these people are trespassing on private property.  Really people, don't you know better than that? 

Well, there you have it. That's most of what can be said about this bird and about feeding it stuff it shouldn't be eating.  I could say a lot more about birding ethics but that's for another post at another time. 

End Rant.